On Monday, the Los Angeles Rams fired head coach Jeff Fisher, who had been with the team since 2012. The Rams fell to 4-9 this season, following Sunday’s 42-14 embarrassing loss to Atlanta. A third straight loss and the eighth out of nine games was the final straw for Fisher, even though the team had announced on Dec. 4 that he had signed a two-year contract extension through 2018.
In nearly five seasons leading the Rams, Fisher went 31-45-1, never finishing with at least a .500 record or better than third in the NFC West. Los Angeles clearly has a lot of issues, but they start on offense where the Rams are last in the NFL in yards and points per game.
There are some intriguing pieces in place, starting with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Alec Ogletree on defense. Running back Todd Gurley has been a huge disappointment the season after being AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, but some of that can be attributed to a lack of production at quarterback and an inconsistent offensive line.
And speaking of quarterback, whoever is the next head coach will be tasked with developing No.1 overall pick Jared Goff. He has shown some flashes in his four starts, but the Rams need much more from the guy they tabbed as their next franchise quarterback, especially after giving up a package of picks, including next year’s first- and third-round selection, to the Tennessee Titans, Fisher’s employer before he was hired by Los Angeles, to take the former Cal standout.
With just one vacancy (for now) in the league, the Rams should have their choice of candidates. Here are some names to keep an eye on.
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots
Second time’s the charm? McDaniels was Denver’s head coach from 2009-10, going 11-17 before he was dismissed prior to Week 13. McDaniels’ tenure with the Broncos was probably best known for trading Jay Cutler to the Bears and moving back into the first round to take Tim Tebow in the 2010 draft.
Following his firing from Denver, McDaniels landed with the Rams in St. Louis, as offensive coordinator under Steve Spagnuolo. When Spagnuolo was fired after the 2011 season, McDaniels returned to New England to work once more under Bill Belichick with whom he has won four Super Bowls. Whether McDaniels’ success is mostly due to Belichick and/or Tom Brady is fair to question, but his boss has already come out and said his young protégé is ready for another shot at being a head coach. Is a reunion with the Rams in order?
Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
Another offensive-minded guy, Shanahan has been with Matt Ryan in Atlanta the past two seasons. The Falcons’ offense is tops in the NFL in scoring and third in both total and passing yards per game, and Ryan's name has come up in discussion regarding possible MVP candidates this season.
Prior to Atlanta, Shanahan was offensive coordinator for Cleveland (2014), Washington (2010-13) and Houston (2008-09). Under his tutelage, Robert Griffin III was named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 while Matt Schaub was a Pro Bowler and enjoyed the best season of his 13-year career in ’09. Shanahan is the son of two-time Super Bowl champion Mike Shanahan. Is it time for him to follow in his father’s footsteps?
Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles
Schwartz is a defensive-minded guy, and he’s been a head coach before too. After an eight-year stint as Fisher’s defensive coordinator in Tennessee, Schwartz was hired by Detroit in 2009. He led the Lions to the playoffs in 2011, but that was his only winning season. He was fired after going 7-9 in 2013, finishing his five-year tenure at 29-51.
After Detroit, Schwartz was hired by Doug Marrone to be Buffalo’s defensive coordinator. That season, the Bills finished fourth in the NFL in both total and scoring defense, while leading the league in sacks. The team went 9-7, but Marrone resigned and new head coach Rex Ryan chose not to retain Schwartz.
After taking a year off, Schwartz joined new Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson’s staff. One of the worst defenses in the league a year ago, Schwartz has turned the Eagles around, as they currently rank 12th in both yards and points allowed per game. Again, defense isn’t the Rams’ biggest issue, but maybe Schwartz is the right guy to get everyone back on the same page? Or will his deep ties to Fisher be a strike against him?
Anthony Lynn, offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills
Formerly the running backs coach, Lynn took over offensive coordinator duties when Greg Roman was fired on Sept. 16. His debut in Week 3 was a successful one (Bills beat Arizona 33-18) and Buffalo currently leads the NFL in rushing offense. Lynn’s rise has gotten the attention of observers around the league, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see his name come up in potential coaching searches. And that could possibly include his current team, given Rex Ryan’s seemingly tenuous status as the Bills are 6-7 and looking like a long shot to end their 17-season playoff drought.
Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers
Haley’s first shot at being a head coach didn’t go well, as he was 19-26 in Kansas City before he was fired with three games left in the 2011 season. But he did lead the Chiefs to 10-6 record and the AFC West title in 2010. And his track record as an offensive coordinator speaks for itself, as he and Ben Roethlisberger have been a formidable pairing the past five seasons in Pittsburgh. The Rams need a QB guru of sorts if Jared Goff is going to develop into the long-term answer. Maybe Haley is the right guy for the job.
One Other Name to Consider...
Brian Kelly, head coach, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame’s 2016 season was a disaster to the point that there were reports Kelly’s representatives were looking for a way out of his contract. Despite the poor record this season, Kelly has had success everywhere he has coached and has long been connected to the NFL. Yes, the Chip Kelly experiment didn't go that great in Philadelphia and now San Francisco, but that doesn't mean we have seen the last of college coaches making the jump. In Brian Kelly's case, the timing may be right given how things went in South Bend this season and a pending academic misconduct case levied by the NCAA that the university is now appealing, something he seems to want nothing to do with. And who doesn’t want to see two Kellys coaching in the NFC West?